Gruesome attacks on animals rock Dartmoor

Dog walkers have been urged to stay alert and keep their pets away from livestock amid a worrying rise in the number of attacks on sheep on Dartmoor.

Dartmoor Livestock Prevention Society says it has already this year dealt with 19 reported dog attacks on Dartmoor livestock - as more and more visitors come to explore the moor.

Karla McKechnie, Livestock Protection Officer, said: "We've had the highest injury to livestock ever at the moment. The moor is increasingly getting busier and with the spike of people buying puppies over lockdown, there's a big conflict between the public and livestock on the moors. I'm afraid that the livestock are paying the consequence for it.

I’ve never known it so busy with dog-related incidents in January and February, and this is the quietest time of year with bad weather and darker evenings so it's a huge number for that."

Dartmoor sheep are primarily the victims of dog attacks, say officials, with now weekly occurrences of sheep being chased, cornered and mauled.

It is now also becoming increasingly difficult to spread awareness of responsible ownership on the moor, the society says.

Karla said: "I don't know what happened to responsible dog ownership, we live in such a high welfare standard society and yet people seem to think it's okay for dogs to chase, worry, and attack the sheep.

"We are fast approaching lambing time which is a big worry for me because dogs and little lambs running around freely come with a massive problem."

The lambing season runs from the 1st of March to the 31st of July on Dartmoor - and the public are being urged to keep dogs on leads during that time.

Karla said: "It's not the majority of people, the majority who use the moors are responsible dog owners, it's the minority who don’t care and who I’m really trying to reach.

"It is a criminal offence for your dog to chase and worry livestock, there are a lot of people who will report it when they see it. I had an incident a few days ago, on the East quarter of the moors out on Hay Tor, a man and woman were walking their Alsatian off the lead, it chased a flock of sheep, it singled one off and it hammered it, it attacked it.

"The lead rule is there for a reason so just out of respect, to avoid committing a crime keep your dog on a lead around livestock on the moor. A lot of people come to Dartmoor whose dogs are not used to being in a big wide open space or seeing animals around, it blows their brains they don't know what to do with themselves."

Many people are not reporting when their pet has harmed livestock and often the animal is left to suffer, Karla says.

The most recent incident being at Haytor - where dog owners fled with their dog leaving a sheep to die. The attack was captured by a walker with a telescopic camera.

Karla said: "So many dog owners turn a blind eye to it, they get back to their car and they drive off. It's not acceptable and it's totally irresponsible, it is not okay leaving an animal suffering. I'm on 24-hour call, morning, noon and night, you can report it anonymously.

"Just please, I'm urging people to not leave an animal suffering if coming to the moor, especially in lambing season please keep your dog on a lead."

The sheep on Dartmoor are owned by farmers and there is a huge concern for them, Karla said.

"Although I'm taking it from a welfare perspective, from the farmer's perspective, it's a farmers livelihood," she said.

"Let's not forget that these sheep belong to somebody. Farmers put their animals on the moors to let them thrive and to let them have their young. Just the stress alone from being run so hard across the moor can make them abort their lambs.

"Sheep have absolutely no way of protecting themselves, they have no defence mechanism, all they are capable of doing is running, they have nothing, they don't bite back so they often don't survive. The injuries that these sheep suffer are absolutely awful, I’ve dealt with so many bad dog attacks and they are just horrible."

"It's a special type of sheep that live out there, they have been reared for generations to withstand the moor, many farmers are withdrawing sheep to lamb out on the moors because they are not safe. It's really serious, it's a massive growing concern on Dartmoor, and for farmers to start thinking about actually removing their sheep because they can't cope with the loss and the financial implications, it will have a huge knock-on effect on the biodiversity of the moor.

With Dartmoor becoming an increasingly popular dog-walking destination in Devon, there are major worries over how the problem can be managed.

Karla said: "The minority are ruining it for the majority, we do not want to see a blanket ban on dogs on the moors. It's having a bad effect on responsible dog ownership.

"What happened to the basic training of dogs, when you get a dog there is a massive responsibility that comes with that and you need to get basic training for that dog. It seems to be lost. Breeds like huskies shouldn't be free on the moor because they are serious hunting dogs with a lot of endurance.

"Don't take the risk, don't think that your dog will be alright if you're not sure. Every dog is capable of it, it doesn't have to be a specific breed, I have seen every breed and type of dog able to chase and attack sheep."

Along with the rise in attacks, the surge in dog numbers in the National Park is creating problems concerning dog waste being left by dog walkers.

Karla said: "People are responsible enough to put dog waste in a dog poo bag, but then they just leave it on the ground. We are all too aware of the bacteria that comes out of dog faeces, which can affect livestock its called Neospora, it's a killer disease that they get from dog faeces so with the whole dog situation on the moor, if we’re not careful things could change quite drastically.

"It's not good for the majority of dog owners, it's always the minority who end up setting rules and regulations because they are ruining it for everybody."

Karla's main priority is attending to animal welfare and assuring that no livestock is left to suffer following an attack.

She works for the Dartmoor Commoner Council and is on call 24 hours a day for welfare issues involving livestock - whether that's road traffic accidents, dog related or general issues.

She said: "My name and number are out there, there is no excuse, you only need to put in your phone ‘animals in distress’ or ‘emergency call out Dartmoor' and my name will come up. If anybody sees a dog-related incident they can report it to me if anyone's dog is actually running havoc on the moor they can phone me up.

"My main priority is to get some help to the animal that is suffering even if it's an anonymous call, anything let's just not leave that animal suffering."